Women have played an important role in the history of Islam from its beginnings. One woman who is well known by Muslims but does not always receive that much attention is Sumayyah bint Khayyat. Sumayyah was the first martyr of Islam and will be the focus of this post, the sixth in a series on important figures.
There is little known about Sumayyah before she became Muslim other than that she was a slave. She then married Yasir ibn Amir and they had a son, Ammar. All three were among the earliest converts to Islam. Yasir, like Sumayyah, was also killed. Ammar went on to be one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad and eventually died in the Battle of Siffin.
In 615 C.E., the Prophet Muhammad began to preach publicly. This resulted in the active persecution of the small Muslim community. The first to be targeted were those who did not have tribal protection. Sumayyah, Yasir, and Ammar were among this group. All three were tied up and beaten. Sumayyah was then stabbed by Abu Jahl, a Meccan leader, when she refused to recant her faith, making her the first martyr of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad was very troubled by the persecution of the Muslims, especially Ammar’s family. He would try to comfort them by saying in a hadith, “Patience oh family of Yasir, for you are destined for Paradise.” (Sahih al-Tirmidhi).
Although Sumayyah did not live long to enough to see the Muslim community grow, she is remembered for her strength, courage, and faith in a period when the Muslims were heavily persecuted. She is important because her active commitment to her faith dispels the the image of Muslim women nowadays that they are oppressed and do not have choice in regards to how they practice their faith. Sumayyah chose to be a Muslim and stood against the Meccans, even risking her life, and had strength that would inspire Muslim men and women later on as they struggled to establish a Muslim community. It is for this reason that she is considered to be a role model for all Muslims.
Have you heard of Sumayyah? What is your impression of her? Is she relevant today? Do you think she is a role model? Please share your comments below.